Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of being "quiet, " part I

The Noise-World sometimes begins to seem like a Lie-World - who can purify it to the point of quietness? - perhaps only art. One has to do more than simply "converse with quietness." In poetry it seems that one also must be able to create quietness.

- Gennady Aygi


Silence in poetry and experience, and in "poetry as experience" (as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe usefully titles his work on Celan), takes myriad forms. There is the silence of complicity and complacency, and the imposed silence of tyranny. There is the alternation of silence and stress in our measures, from which poetic rhythms of recurrence and difference emerge. There is the silence of the act of listening, so central to the poetics of [Oppen, Celan, and Aygi]. There is as well the silence of the ellipse, within whose invisible boundaries meanings gather, and which plays an equally central role in the work of these poets. Then too, and closely related, is the originary silence out of which some would say language arises, and to which poetic speech returns, in its effort to rescue meaning from the rhetorical degradation of commerce and power. Whether we entirely accept this model or not, and I hesitate to say that we should, it can be seen to speak to the role of the lyric voice in history - and not beyond history. It seems clear that the actual, human conversation of the poem, with an other who is present and real, not some fetishized category of the Other, preserves this model, in much altered form, from Heideggerean metaphysics and mystification. In the face of Stalinism, Hitler, endless slaughter and failed utopias, thinking toward if not exactly truth, but a poetic relationship to what remains true, or truly possible, in language ... an unfinished sentence. And the necessary, necessarily shipwrecked, singular, of the making...? And "the meaning of being numerous," and the shipwrecked many...?

What has been little noted critically, is that in each instance, such poetic thought involves stepping away from vanguardist experiment per se. [...] Aygi once remarked, "I have never experimented - I simply have no time for it."

-- Michael Palmer, "Take the X Train: A Discrete Series: For Oppen," the 22nd annual George Oppen Memorial Lecture at the San Francisco Poetry Center, December 2007, reprinted in Active Boundaries: Selected Essays and Talks